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The Novel as Panacea
Their mother asked the impossible. Their father did the unthinkable.
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Powell's Books Powell's Books
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What's the word for impotent worry activated by reading the morning paper? When your mind swirls with horror at people's pain and you think of how you can effect, perhaps, if you work very hard, a fingernail's length of change.

Perhaps the word should be horror-fever. Symptoms: choking on overseas flood worry, aching with news of increased world temperatures, and experiencing persistent chest pain, potentiated by guilt at inability to sacrifice entire life to help war-torn refugees.

There are a few honorable (as opposed to marathon sessions of Law & Order) ways to treat horror-fever.

1) Donate more money & volunteer more time (depending on the time and wallet-point of your life, your giving scale will tip one direction or the other.)

2) Write letters to the editor, spreading the concern you feel, allowing media-folk to acknowledge that, yes, someone is listening.

3) Realizing that every fingernail counts-and a million individual dollars add up to . . . a million dollars.

And then:

4) When the anxiety has reached emergency room levels and you're personally tapped out for time or money, but you need some psychic relief, pick up a novel. In a novel, you can live through pain and reach conclusions. Perhaps they aren't the one you've been rooting for, or maybe they are, but at the very least, like an armchair athlete watching football (is that what it's about?) you can immerse yourself in tragedy and drama for a few hours, without deserting your family and joining the Peace Corp (another option.)

My author choice of the week: Rosellen Brown. If you've not yet had the pleasure of her company, her books satisfy like a well-made home-cooked meal. All the ingredients are there, nothing is over-done or show-off fancy, and yet it provides everything you want for a perfect reading experience. Great plot. Elegant writing. Turn-the-pagability.

Go to her site and discover all her work-poetry, short stories, essays-or start with my favorites (repeatedly re-read.)

Before and After. Forget the Meryl Street-Liam Neeson movie if you saw it (not that there's anything wrong with it) and sink into this story of a family shattering page by page. What happens to parents when a child is accused of an awful crime? What happens when the parents fall on opposite sides of how to support that child?

This book is the best example I've read of how fiction can reveal individual members of a family, POV by POV, providing the reader with exacting portraits of the ways we each live in our own reality-even when we share our home, DNA, or a bedroom.

Tender Mercies breaks your heart, and it breaks it without adornment or fancy footwork. The story of a man who severely injures his wife through an accident of bravado, told from his point of view, explores with the brightest of lights the inside of a marriage after tragedy.

We all need to find our causes, help, donate, and do as much as possible

Then don't we need to rest?

Some of us rest by safely experiencing intensity.

I do it by reading someone like Rosellen Brown.

Which author is your panacea?